By: Jaime Grant
Jaime M. Grant, a white lesbian organizer who grew up in Boston in the 60s, interviews Daunasia Yancey a Black queer, femme leader of Black Lives Matter Boston as their conversion reveals the unapologetic work we all strive to do within ourselves and our community.
Jaime: One of the things that’s striking about BLM is the emphasis on love and the body and mental health. It feels like a focal point…
Daunasia: I feel like it’s a vocal point – I mean, we talk about it a lot. But what does that mean in the day to day? I was just texting my friend – there are a LOT of people who know my name and feel connected to me versus the people I am close to, those I actually know – it’s hard to reconcile this will how lonely as I feel so much of the time.
There’s a disconnect there. People are trying. I just had lunch with another young leader in Boston. Balancing leadership with our own internal struggles and other people’s stuff – it’s isolating. In movement work, especially at a moment of rapid transformation like this one – the stakes are so high! We need each other to come through for each other so much – it’s daunting.
Daunasia: I know I could do a better job of checking in on people. It’s hard depending on where people are at. As much as we are about transparency and all that – what’s the balance of having a strong image as a leader and being authentic and vulnerable? This is really a struggle.
In my group of close friends, it’s like, we need to have a regular dinner, to take care of each other. It’s hard to be leading and learning and growing.
In my team – there’s a difference between what they need and what I need. How do I bring more of myself to the moment, to the work?
Jaime: Is that because you are the oldest on your team?
Daunasia: No! I’m the youngest! Though, I don’t often feel like the youngest because I’m holding space for so many people.
Jaime: Recently, we worked on the sexual liberation track at the LGBTQ organizer’s conference, Creating Change. You put together a workshop that in my mind was critically important to the track this year:
Black Love Matters. Can you talk about that space?
Daunasia: It was great. I co-presented with Ashleigh Shackelford, another leader who is doing really great work on love in the movement and the body. Our break-out sessions broke into three groups. One on trauma, another on self-care, and a third on relationships in the movement. People didn’t want to leave, we added a meet-up for lunch that day. The session was early in the conference so people carried the conversation through the whole weekend.
One of the things I realize I’m really struggling with is the demands of being a public ‘leader.’ Suddenly, my public presentation becomes most important and my personal sexuality and expression becomes secondary to leadership. There’s enormous pressure in order to be effective for the movement — you have to show a certain level of ‘professionalism’ that trumps our sexual expression I don’t even post pictures on twitter anymore. The isolation is self-perpetuating. It’s not like I’ve gotten push back or hate. As an organizer for BLM — journalists and politicians are following me… So I self-censor.
I’ve never been this conscious of it before. In terms of dating and pursuing my attractions. I’m in a highly visible position- It’s HARD. These super radical people are right here in the trenches with me, and how will my attachment to them have an impact on this work? The last person I was seeing was in the trenches with me and now that we’ve broken up and are still organizing together — it’s difficult.
Ideally, for me, when there’s a breakup I need to remove a person from my everyday routine to give myself the space to grieve, and make the change – to get to the next space. But if you have to stay connected in work, in full constant contact, how do you make that separation?
At Creating Change, I went to the polyamory caucus and I came to the realization that I trust me. And when I choose a partner, I trust my partner — that we will hold each other in love and respect and keep it together. I realized at the caucus that don’t necessarily trust the partners of my partners and ex- partners.
I’ve felt a very intense protectiveness. Of the individual and the movement – like: don’t get involved with this person – there are going to be repercussions that reverberate all over our lives and our work.
I’m really thinking deeply about how those feelings fall along the same sexist, racist, anti-femme lines that they fall on in any social circle. So I really want to look at that. Meanwhile, I feel like: I don’t want you to fuck this up! I can see, even as I’m feeling it – that this sense of urgency I feel can be damaging.
In the movement, the culture of critique feels so heavy to me right now. I’m not seeing an opening of arms. Not only will people in our circles have to deal with the fallout of a bad relationship breakup but the internet – the larger, anonymous, critical world will come in. We should be able to have messy break ups and make mistakes and cuss each other out and have it just go how it’s going to go.
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Jaime: The paradox of this moment around digital organizing is that while it’s created a sea-change in being able to reach more people and maximize impact, that’s different from actually connecting. And on the very downside of it – it has perhaps created yet another surveilling force in the lives of radical Black organizers.
Daunasia: This year, I felt so self conscious at the conference because I was hooking up with and hanging out with a white organizer/friend who I’ve known for a decade! I could feel that sense of being observed and judged walking around the space with a white woman. At the end of the day – I don’t give a fuck. I need to be able to be myself and make my own choices in the moment.
Jaime: It feels like a very heavy moment for thinking about self-care in the movement because a very visible, talented Ohio leader, MarShawn McCarrell, who was just 21 years old, committed suicide only weeks ago. People are reeling with the shock of this.
Daunasia: Yes, we all have been talking about this for a while. Suicide. And other devastations – we are aware that people are going get caught in the system, some of us may end up going to prison and some of us may die of police and other violence, including suicides. We need to be as careful and strategic about keeping people alive and out of prison as we are about actions.
Jaime: If this is your love letter to the movement, what do you want to say? or what do you want to close with?
Daunasia: I want us to put energy into the work of living out our ideals interpersonally as well as politically. I want us to remember that we have been here before, that we are working on movement time, and to practice tolerating the urgency we sometimes feel towards quick and easy solutions. There will be no quick and easy solutions – we don’t call it the struggle for nothing.
I want us to see each other, really see each other because we each have immense value far beyond our ability to produce, whether for the state or for the people. Plus — we fly!